Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Kevin Dunn. (2008, PG-13, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 15, 2008
Yes, this is the new Woody Allen film widely hyped for a threesome, although it’s not the configuration as advertised in the ungainly title. Vicky (Hall, indefinable but intriguing) is the smart, sensible brunette and Cristina (Johansson) the amorous, free-thinking blonde; together, they are American best friends summering in Barcelona and falling, at a staggered clip, for a sultry Spanish painter named Juan Antonio (Bardem). It sounds like the setup for a hot, sexy mess – and it might have been had Allen scrapped Vicky and Cristina to focus on the scenic glories of Gaudí’s Barcelona and the twin headspin of Bardem and Cruz (who plays Juan Antonio’s brawling ex-wife, Maria Elena). But Allen’s take is too toothless, too bemused with the ever-shifting dynamics among the four players – shifts that often seem unmotivated, despite the near-constant narration (delivered by Christopher Evan Welch) that plainly announces them. That narration also carries the whiff of contempt for the American leads – although Cristina doesn't help herself when, tasked with the question of what she does for a living, she replies, “I’m currently at liberty.” (A well-heeled, unaccountably monied woman aching for male approval and artistic credibility by flopping from bed to bed, hobby to hobby, philosophy to philosophy? Gosh, Woody – haven’t seen that one before.) Muse or not, Johansson is done no favors here by Allen, and when sidled up to Cruz, who’s only gotten harder, sexier, and more bedazzling as she ages, the jejune actress – sorry, ingenue – amounts to not much more than a blinding blonde with a power pout. The real problem – as ever, in Allen’s latter years – is the glass-house remove that dogs his writing. Vicky Cristina Barcleona is by no means a bad film, but it’s irrefutable evidence that Allen has aged – or cloistered – himself into irrelevance. As non-native speakers, Bardem and Cruz – who have a corker of a scene in which they comfort each other, in Spanish, while being mutually dumped by the third leg of their ménage à trois – manage the formal, stilted-sounding language believably, but something is terribly amiss when the American actors sound like English is their second language.